Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: Too Big To Fail (2009) by Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Would you want to listen to a play-by-play of a game when you knew the final score?

Some sports purists do, as old games run on the NFL Network and ESPN Classic, to analyze closely what happened.

Likewise, Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail reads like a play-by-play as it goes from myriad meetings to telephone conversations and then back again as "Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system--and themselves." For example, Sorkin reports on proposed merger talks, but knowing that such a merger was not consummated removes any suspense.

A sports play-by-play simply reports what happened. There's little emphasis on coaches' game plans before the game or what they were strategizing during the game. A play-by-play does not explain the why or how of events leading up to the game.

Too, Sorkin does not seem interested in doing an etiology of this financial breakdown. Sorkin quotes President Bush asking, "How ... did we get here?" (p. 440), but doesn't endeavor to provide any answers. Given that some might find the book's size almost "too big to read" (at 539 pages sans acknowledgements and notes), it's surprising how little Sorkin discusses causes.

By contrast, Lawrence G. McDonald and Patrick Robinson's briefer, A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers (reviewed here on November 13, 2009), managed to do so. A former Lehman Brothers vice-president, McDonald was much harder on Richard Fuld and Joe Gregory than Sorkin was. In fact, the only person that took a sustained linguistic beating in Sorkin's tome was Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (and former Congressman from Newport Beach, CA), whom is called a "lightweight", "cryogentically frozen" (304) and "almost intentionally ineffectual" (422), among other things.

Nevertheless, Sorkin does provide an extensive array of material, that obviously took a tremendous amount of time to obtain. Given that most people weren't in meetings or privy to phone conversations, the book does keep readers' interest, notwithstanding knowledge of how things turned out.

As I passed the 500-page mark, I was impressed by the lack of editing errors, especially given the paucity of time that Sorkin had to conduct all this research and then assemble it into a book in about a year. Just as I formed that impression, a spate of errors cropped up suggesting the book was rushed to press just a bit too soon. (e.g., 503, 514, 516.)


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